A record high number of people with disabilities found employment through public job placement offices in Japan in fiscal 2013, according to a new report from the health and welfare ministry.
The government data shows an increase of 14 percent in hiring disabled people from the previous year, bringing the total who found new jobs to 77,883 people. In the current listless economy, that number is significant.
The data also shows that those with mental disabilities finding jobs rose more strongly than those with physical disabilities for the first time.
A total of 28,307 people with physical handicaps found new jobs, up 6.5 percent, while 17,649 people with intellectual disabilities found new employment, up 10.1 percent.
The number of new hires of people with mental disorders rose 23.2 percent to 29,404 people, the highest number yet.
Those welcome results may not quite signal a tipping point in the hiring practices of Japanese companies, but it is an important sign that many workplaces are starting to shed old prejudices against hiring workers with disabilities.
The many workplaces that hired those employees last year are showing more inclusiveness and tolerance than in the past. While the total number employed is still smaller than it should be, these figures are cautiously optimistic.
The record high job placement for disabled people may also signal an arrival of sensible, practical views of employment. More and more different kinds of people are now being hired to do work than in the past. It is more obvious to employers that disabled people have job skills that are valuable and productive.
Companies seem to be shifting to policies that are less concerned with constructing a homogeneous social unit and more focused on finding employees who can get the job done.
Companies might take this record high as a chance to reconfirm that their hiring policies are not only inclusive and compassionate but also based on sound economic sense. Disabled people are consumers, too, after all. The homogeneity and conformity of the Japanese workplace, as well as of the services and products they offer, is no longer a viable concept in the current economy.
Companies should continue to open their doors to disabled people. A society that considers itself truly democratic and tolerant must establish economic structures where all individuals, disabled or not, can pursue their self-sufficiency and financial security, and participate and contribute fully and meaningfully.
Those goals begin with finding a job. For four consecutive years up to 2013, more disabled people have found employment than in the year before. Fiscal 2014 should continue this admirable record.